Give Me The Banjo, a documentary chronicling 300 years of American history and popular culture through the country’s quintessential musical instrument – from its earliest use by enslaved Africans in colonial times to the 21st century – premieres Friday, Nov. 4, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS television stations(check your local listings).

Steve Martin (Photo: Sandee O)

Presented by UNC-TV, North Carolina’s 12-station statewide public television network, the documentary is hosted by singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, narrated by acclaimed actor/comedian /author and banjoist Steve Martin, and features such banjo masters as Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bela Fleck, Taj Mahal, Earl Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Abigail Washburn, and the late Mike Seeger. Give Me The Banjo explores the roots of American music, including minstelry, ragtime and early jazz, blues, old-time, folk and bluegrass. Joining these musicians and others in relating/telling stories of America’s instrument in all its richness and diversity are a number of folklorists, music historians and instrument builders and collectors. Rare stills, first-hand narratives, archival footage and recordings complement their commentary.

“What we found compelling, and what drove this project from the inception, is the fact that you can really get a new perspective on the story of American popular music with the banjo as the vehicle,” says Emmy Award-winning writer and producer Marc Fields, who produced and directed Give Me The Banjo with the assistance of co-producer and music director Tony Trischka, one of the most influential banjo players in the roots music world. “It truly cuts across all categories and boundaries of race, class, region [and] genre,” Fields continues. “The instrument is at the root of roots music and at the crossroads where folk tradition meets commercialism, yet it’s still struggling for the respect and serious attention it deserves.”

Seated (l-r): Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka. Standing (l-r): Marc Fields, Richard Battaglia, Bruce Petschek (director of photography) and Robert Battaglia.

Give Me The Banjo was more than nine years in the making and was culled from the filming of more than 350 hours of interviews and performances in 14 states.

A web-based archive of musical and historical content that extends beyond what will air on television, The Banjo Project ( is designed to serve as a cultural gathering place for exchanging knowledge and news about the banjo, replete with photos and video clips.